Tue | Jan 22, 2019

White House tries to hold jittery GOP in line on shutdown

Published:Thursday | January 10, 2019 | 12:00 AM
Migrants mainly from Mexico and Central America look on as US President Donald Trump gives a prime-time address about border security on television on Tuesday, watching from a border migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico.

WASHINGTON (AP):

President Donald Trump was heading to Capitol Hill on Wednesday as the White House tried to hold jittery congressional Republicans in line on the 19th day of the partial government shutdown. He said he thought "we're getting closer to a deal" but there was little other evidence of an end to the impasse over his demand for billions for a wall at the US-Mexico border.

Trump insisted at the White House he "didn't want this fight". But it was his sudden rejection of a bipartisan spending bill late last month that blindsided leaders in Congress, including Republican allies, now seeking a resolution to the shutdown over his signature campaign issue.

Ahead of his visit to Capitol Hill and another round of talks later Wednesday at the White House, Trump made his cautiously optimistic comment about a possible deal. But he also renewed his notice that he might declare a national emergency and try to authorise the wall on his own if Congress won't approve the $5.7 billion he's asking.

"I think we might work a deal, and if we don't, we might go that route," he said.

There's growing concern about the toll the shutdown is taking on everyday Americans, including disruptions in payments to farmers and trouble for home buyers who are seeking government-backed mortgage loans - "serious stuff," according to Sen John Thune, the No. 2 Senate Republican.

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, urged colleagues to approve spending bills that would reopen various agencies, "so that whether it's the Department of the Interior or it is the IRS, those folks can get back to work. I'd like to see that."

Senator John Cornyn, R-Texas, called the stand-off "completely unnecessary and contrived. People expect their government to work. This obviously is not working".

Trump was to get a personal sense of the concern - and perhaps questions about his strategy - from those in his own party at the US Capitol on Wednesday.

Like other Republicans, Senator Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia said she wants border security. But she said there was "no way" the shutdown fight would drag on for years as Trump warned last week.

"I think certainly I have expressed more than a few times the frustrations with a government shutdown and how useless it is," Capito said Tuesday. "That pressure is going to build."

NO BACKING DOWN

There was no sign Trump was backing down from his demand for $5.7 billion for the border wall in exchange for ending the shutdown. Before heading to Capitol Hill he said he had "tremendous Republican support".

Late in the day, Democratic and Republican congressional leaders were to return to the White House to meet with him and renew negotiations that have shown no apparent progress in the past week.

Democrats said Wednesday they will ask Trump during the meeting to accept an earlier bipartisan bill that had money for border security but not the wall. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that the effects of hundreds of thousands of lost paycheques would begin to ripple across the economy.

"The president could end the Trump shutdown and reopen the government today, and he should," Pelosi said.

Tuesday night, speaking to the nation from the Oval Office for the first time, Trump argued that the wall was needed to resolve a security and humanitarian "crisis." He blamed illegal immigration for what he said was a scourge of drugs and violence in the US and asked: "How much more American blood must we shed before Congress does its job?"